Last Thursday morning I was able to sit down with one of the front runners for Ward 4 City Council - Michael A. Brown. To many the name should sound familiar as he just ran unsuccessfully for mayor. Others may recall the name because Mr. Brown is the son of Ron Brown former Commerce Secretary in the Clinton Administration. The visit was quite convenient as Mr. Brown has set up his campaign (exploratory) headquarters right in the heart of lower Petworth. Mr. Brown was dressed impeccably in a pinstripe suit with bald head glistening.
Taking a look around his office you could tell we were not dealing with an amateur. There were maps all over the place with Ward 4 outlined in pencil with stick it notes all over it. I admit I don't know a lot about campaign maps but since there was more than one I was impressed. Secondly, there was a white board and I glanced at number four since it was prominently displayed on the wall. Number four: call Oprah. Now I wonder if it is that Oprah or another Oprah. The beauty of a blog is the ability to speculate. The office was quite impressive if cluttered with campaign materials and papers, maps, and signs covering almost every inch of the working space. Later in the morning I saw his campaign staff crouching around laptop computers. Finally, you could tell Mr. Brown was a true Washingtonian as he compulsively checked his blackberry handheld device. Maybe something he picked up from the successful Ward 4 representative he is looking to replace. At any rate with the pleasantries out of the way we were able to talk turkey.
Mr. Brown is a third generation Washingtonian who grew up in Shepherd Park, attending Shepherd Elementary School. But he has also had an interesting background outside of DC. He attended college in Massachusetts where he said he played basketball. As we spoke of his college experience you could find a mischievous smile on his face, I think of this smile as a smile of privilege. It was a contagious smile though, not a pompous one. At any rate Mr. Brown has also worked for the campaign of Gov. Dukakis when he was the Democratic nominee for President. Additionally, Mr. Brown has spent time in many parts of Africa including South Africa, Ghana, Benin and Nigeria working as a lobbyist. Mr. Brown is married with twin children who attend school in Ward 4.
As Mr. Brown spent a lot of time in Africa he noted that in Nairobi, the schools are often run down lacking many supplies but the children "read, write, and count better than all of us" because education is a priority to them. We need to make education a priority for our children. He does not believe that education is a priority to our youth. He suggests that our young people be exposed to culture: our museums, plays, and to accomplish this through mandatory class trips. We see folks coming in from all over the country looking at our museums, our children should have the same benefit according to Mr. Brown.
Mr. Brown also sees the need for careers and to jobs to be available to our youth upon graduation. As such he also advocates for the (re)establishment of vocational and technical schools. These are not for everyone but they should be an option and any stigma that is attached to them should be removed. Mr. Brown believes that this transition could be identified in Middle School when the young folks can be given a road map identifying all of their options. Mr. Brown explained the link between lack of education and crime and the remedy - Hope. Mr. Brown was adamant that we needed to show our youth hope to break the cycle of despair and crime.
Mr. Brown was proud to note he has been credited with spending time with young people in troubled neighborhoods. "We need to engage these youth" said Mr. Brown. We should set up apprentice programs, entrepreneurial programs and programs addressing the unemployed, said Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown often linked many of the issues facing Ward 4. We can not properly address public safety without addressing public education without addressing affordable housing without addressing public safety etc. "People need hope and opportunity to stop crime." This resonated with me, as a student of the Middle East Peace Process, hope was often linked with stopping that cycle of violence as well.
However, community policing is important as well. The surveillance cameras alone will not solve the problem rather smart police deployments. Here Mr. Brown linked affordable housing with police deployment. The city should provide better affordable housing to our City's police officers and firefighters so that they will live in the communities they serve and therefore have a greater stake.
Hope, hope, and more hope
This message was repeated over and over. When addressing pride in the community and gentrification Mr. Brown explained that the residents shouldn't feel displaced. They need to feel hope for the future and everything else will follow.
Old Soldier's Home
We should consider a dog park according to Mr. Brown. This goes to the issue of density and public space is extremely important. I'm not sure how strongly Mr. Brown feels about this issue as I really had to push for an answer on this, it was not the first thing that came to his mind when addressing Old Soldier's home development. But the fact that he eventually said it does seem to be a good sign.
We should eliminate property tax permanently for seniors said Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown explained that as residents are pushed out due to high property taxes we also lose out on the local economy because these are the people who are shopping at our stores. This will hopefully help us retain our residents. Also Mr. Brown supports capping property tax for the rest of us for 38-52 months to figure out a responsible rate.
Homeless Shelter in Ward 1 on Georgia Avenue
Mr. Brown is publicly opposed to moving the current homeless shelter on 14th and R to Ward 1 on Georgia Avenue. Every Ward should have to deal with special needs and Ward 4 currently has many group homes so the Shelter should not be moved especially without significant community input.
Mr. Brown is reading $40 million slaves by William Rhoden.
Mr. Brown listens to an ipod and is not sure of the last songs his kids downloaded for him but he likes anything from hip hop to Frank Sinatra.
Mr. Brown last saw Casino Royale (he is more of a Roger Moore fan.)
I would not be surprised to see Mr. Brown representing Ward 4 in April. He has an established staff, many volunteers, and an unsinkable positive spirit. I may worry that he is only using this position as a springboard to future politics but I guess everyone does that. So in the short term, as evidenced by positioning his headquarters in Petworth, I believe as Councilman for Ward 4, Mr. Brown will keep Petworth at the front of his thoughts.
You can visit Mr. Brown's website at www.brown2007exploratory.com